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Face the Nation transcript February 19, 2017: Priebus, Graham, Nunes, Cummings

JOHN DICKERSON, CBS HOST: Today on FACE THE NATION: Plagued with personnel problems and drowning in damaging leaks to the press, President Trump goes back to being candidate.

One month into office, President Trump held a campaign rally last night in Florida. For the president, it was a comforting ending to an uncomfortable week in Washington.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am here because I want to be among my friends and among the people.


DICKERSON: And he gave a status report on his presidency.


TRUMP: The White House is running so smoothly.


DICKERSON: But is it? We will talk to White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, then turn to key Republican voices on foreign policy, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, plus Maryland Democrat Elijah Cummings.

And, as always, we will have analysis on all the news coming up on FACE THE NATION.

Good morning, and welcome to FACE THE NATION. I am John Dickerson.

It has been another bracing week in Washington.

And we talked about it earlier with President Trump’s chief of staff, Reince Priebus.


DICKERSON: Mr. Priebus, welcome.

I want to start with a little business before we get to the substance of things. There has been a debate about when to take the president seriously. He recently tweeted that the press was the enemy of the American people.

Should we take that seriously from him?

REINCE PRIEBUS, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Well, I think you should take it seriously.

I think that the problem we have got is that we are talking about bogus stories like the one in “The New York Times” that we have had constant contact with Russian officials. The next day, “The Wall Street Journal” had a story that the intel community was not giving the president a full intelligence briefing, both stories grossly inaccurate, overstated, overblown.

And it is total garbage. So we spend, you know, 48 hours on bogus stories, and the American people suffer. So I do think it is a problem. And I think that the media needs to, in some cases, not every case, John, but, in some cases, really needs to get its act together.

DICKERSON: The enemy?

PRIEBUS: Well, if you’re not -- if the theory is, is that the press is supposed to be a free forum of information to -- to speak to the American people, I think it ought to be accurate.

And I think that we have gotten to a place, John, where the media is willing to run with unnamed sources, apparently false leaked documents, to create stories. I mean, we deal with one after the next.

I think that the media should stop with this unnamed source stuff, put names on a piece of paper and print it. If people aren’t willing to put their name next to a quote, then the quote shouldn’t be listed, period.

DICKERSON: What you are describing is something that, in all the presidencies I have covered, is a very familiar complaint from White Houses going back a very long time. And no previous White House has called the press the enemy.

PRIEBUS: Well, I think, in our case, we have a total feeding frenzy and something that has gotten so out of control.

When you look at the president’s accomplishments, why don’t we talk about the fact that we pull out of TPP, we did a deregulation executive order that takes two regulations for every one that has been put in place, we nominated Neil Gorsuch, we signed a bill, the president, in saving our coal mining jobs, we have met with the U.K., we met with Canada, we have met with Israel?

We have done so many things that are noteworthy and an accomplishment one day after the next. The storyline should not be about bogus Russian spy stories. They should be that this president has accomplished more in the first 30 days of this presidency than people can possibly remember in a very long time.

DICKERSON: Let me ask...

PRIEBUS: It is a story of accomplishment. And that is not what we are talking about.

DICKERSON: Well, it’s -- we are talking about the -- declaring that the press is the enemy.

And I just wanted to ask you this. In the past, when the president has -- when he was a candidate and he targeted people, say, protesters at a rally, some people found that an opportunity to take license and target those people.

As a spokesman for White House here with us today, what would you say to anybody who might take license with the idea when the president says the press is the enemy and act on that declaration by the president?

PRIEBUS: Well, I don’t know what you mean by act on.

I mean, certainly, we would never condone violence. But I do think that we condone critical thought. And I think that if Americans put critical thought, which I think they will, into what they are reading in these newspapers and actually what is being accomplished by the Trump administration, they would realize that the press in many cases has not been doing their job in reporting the truth.

And the truth is, day after day after day, we have good stories to tell, great accomplishments. Business is coming back. The stock market is at an all-time high. Companies like GM, Ford, Chrysler, Intel, all across this country are adding jobs by the thousands.

And it is because President Trump is doing the things every day to give confidence to business owners and workers across America that things are getting done positively.

Instead, we are talking about stupidity and intelligence reporting that is based on facts that’s not coming out of the actual heads of these intelligence agencies. And we are sitting here talking about it. And it is a shame, and it needs to end.

DICKERSON: Let me ask you something about John McCain -- Senator John McCain said in front of a group of European leaders at the Munich security conference.

He said that the audience would -- quote -- “be alarmed by the growing inability and even unwillingness to separate truth from lies.”

Your response to that criticism of the administration?

PRIEBUS: Well, I think that is a good criticism of the media.

You know, it is very difficult to separate the truth from the lies because we’re spending too much time responding...

DICKERSON: Mr. Priebus, he wasn’t talking about the media.

PRIEBUS: I get it, John. I understand the question.

And I am just asking you to do the same thing in regard to the media and what we have been dealing with lately in responding to 24 hours a day, seven days a week of cable news with one Chyron after the next of a lie from another source that doesn’t want to actually name a single person in these bogus stories.

And so we would rather talk about the truth and what is happening, instead of these bogus stories and go through the litany of things that we have accomplished, the lobbying ban, the hiring freeze, deregulation, protecting Americans from terrorists.

DICKERSON: I understand. Mr. Priebus, I understand, but you -- I’m asking you...

PRIEBUS: It’s been quite a -- I think it has been an accomplishment.

DICKERSON: I understand.

But if we could get back to the question from Senator McCain of Arizona, who made that claim about truth from the White House. What is your response to that?

PRIEBUS: My response is that there’s -- I don’t even know what he is referring to.

I mean, I under -- I didn’t see his statement. But he would be wrong in regard to that statement and the White House and President Trump. The fact of the matter is, the level of accomplishment that he’s put forward so far in the first 30 days has been remarkable.

DICKERSON: Let me ask you...

PRIEBUS: And I have already gone through the litany...

DICKERSON: You have..

PRIEBUS: ... many times with you.

DICKERSON: Let me ask -- let me ask you about that -- that litany.

In conversations I have had with members in the administration, and also Republicans on the Hill, they have said that, while they are on your team, they are on your side, they recognize all those accomplishments you talk about, that the -- when the president says the White House is a fine-tuned machine, and when Stephen Miller in the White House says it is an understatement that you are in control, what they worry about is that not everything is in control, and there is such an effort to show how things are in control, that there may be a blind spot at the White House of the things that naturally with any administration need to be fixed.

For those people who are worried about that blind spot, about the things that do need to be fixed, what’s your words to them?

PRIEBUS: Well, first of all, there you go again. You are talking about some people, those people, them, they. Who are these people, John? Give me a name.

DICKERSON: You have not heard any -- you have not heard any...


PRIEBUS: You’re asking me a question about...


DICKERSON: ... conversations with people on the Hill.

PRIEBUS: This is what -- this is what you guys do.

DICKERSON: Well, I’m -- let me ask you then. Let’s put it this way, Mr. Priebus.

PRIEBUS: No, I think most people on the Hill...

DICKERSON: In conversations you have had with the Hill -- on conversations you have with, say, Speaker Paul Ryan and lots of other leaders on the Hill, when they talk to you, do they express no concern that things at the White House are maybe a little ragged on certain issues?

Is it constant praise that you get from your allies on the Hill?

PRIEBUS: Look, I think what we hear from people on the Hill is the same thing I am telling you, that the media is obsessed with a lot of false, hollow stories without sourcing that we have to track down and deal with.

You have -- you have constant...

DICKERSON: Let me ask you. Let me ask you this, Mr. Priebus.

PRIEBUS: OK. Go ahead.

DICKERSON: So, in every answer, you have turned it back to the media.

So, I guess the question is, is the strategy now to answer any question by just turning it back on the media and using a fight with the media as a way to try to control the storyline?

PRIEBUS: John, all -- the last few questions you have asked make no sense.

I mean, you are talking about people that you are not naming and whether or not some things need to be improved and what would you say to some people that say some things?

I mean, what things? What people? What are you referring to? Give me a specific question with a specific purpose, with a specific accusation, and I will answer the question.

But you are asking me a vague question without any specifics, and you want me to give you a specific answer. It is ridiculous.

DICKERSON: Well, I guess -- I guess the president was the one who said the administration is running like a fine-tuned machine. So, I am referring to a comment that he made.

And people I have talked to on the Hill don’t agree with that comment. And so I am wondering whether you think that there is a disconnect there and whether you have to address that when you -- with your allies, who, again, have your interests at heart, but think there are parts of the administration -- and what your evaluation, as the person who is the chief of staff, is in terms of improvements you have to make in the administration.

PRIEBUS: Well, look, I mean, I think, for one thing, it is a finely tuned machine, but I also think that it is a machine that is the longest administration without a full Cabinet.

And, as those Cabinet positions are being filled, the positions underneath those Cabinet secretaries are being filled. And I do think that things get more robust and they become more built out as you move forward. And I think all of those things are going to help the entire Trump administration.

But as far what we have done on a daily basis, whether it is meeting with retailers, whether it is talking about women empowerment, whether it’s meeting with foreign leaders, or whether it’s signing an E.O. or saving the coal industry, those are things that we are doing day in and day out.

And I think that the media -- and not necessarily you, John, but people like you -- ought to spend more time on the actual substance of what is happening, as opposed to hollow stories about what might be happening out there across the world which is not based on any fact or any actual specific information.

DICKERSON: Well, I was just asking for a response to something the president said.

But let me ask you about Michael Flynn, another thing the president said. He said that -- the president said that it was good for Michael Flynn to be in conversation with the Russian ambassador.

Did he mean that it was good for him to be in conversation about sanctions with the Russian ambassador when he talked to him about sanctions before the inauguration?

PRIEBUS: No, that is not what he said, John.

I think what he is really referring to is the fact that Michael Flynn, as NSA director, his job is to talk to foreign leaders, yes, including the Russian ambassador and other ambassadors across the world. And other people, other experts, also have said the same thing, that there is not a darn thing wrong with what he is doing by communicating to these other leaders.

He didn’t get into the topics of what was discussed, but...

DICKERSON: But was it wrong for him to talk about sanctions?

PRIEBUS: Or whether he was saying the whole -- whether he was telling the vice president the truth or the whole story or whether he forgot, that’s a totally separate issue.

But as far as his job of speaking with world leaders, that is what General Flynn was supposed to be doing.

DICKERSON: But does the president believe it was correct for him to be talking about sanctions with the Russian ambassador before the inauguration?

PRIEBUS: The president didn’t comment on that.

DICKERSON: But what does he think, Mr. Priebus?

PRIEBUS: The point is that there was nothing wrong -- there was -- there was -- what he thinks is, there was nothing -- he didn’t do anything wrong.

There was nothing wrong with talking to the foreign...

DICKERSON: But was there anything wrong about talking to him about sanctions? That’s the issue.

PRIEBUS: ... with the foreign -- the Russian ambassador about the current sanctions that were being put in place by the Obama administration. I just answered the question.

DICKERSON: Oh, so there was nothing wrong?

I am just trying to get a straight answer. There is nothing wrong with having that conversation about sanctions?

PRIEBUS: No, there is nothing wrong with having a conversation about sanctions. And there was nothing wrong about having a conversation about the fact that the Obama administration put further sanctions in place and expelled some folks out of the United States.

There is nothing wrong with that topic coming up in a conversation.

DICKERSON: Some people argue that it was an undermining of ongoing U.S. policy by somebody who was not a spokesperson for the administration.

One other question on Mr. Flynn. Has anybody asked him whether he had contact with the Russians before the election?

PRIEBUS: I did -- I am not -- since before the election? What do you mean, before November?

DICKERSON: Did Mr. Flynn, before the votes in November, have any contacts with the Russians? Did anybody ask that?

PRIEBUS: I think it’s been -- well, I think he gave a speech in Russia. So he must have had some contacts before the election.

DICKERSON: Did anybody, though...

PRIEBUS: There has been no specific conversation about that particularly, no.

DICKERSON: I just wondered.

The president said nobody he knew of had any contact with the Russians during the campaign. And there have been -- there was a report in “The Washington Post” that Mr. Flynn did in fact talk to the Russians during the campaign.

And I just wondered whether anybody had asked him, so as not to send the president out with incorrect information.

PRIEBUS: I have never heard that. And I have never heard that he has had any other contacts before the election. I don’t think the president has either.

DICKERSON: All right, Mr. Priebus, we appreciate your time. Thanks so much for being with us.

PRIEBUS: Thank you, John.


DICKERSON: And we will be back in one minute.


DICKERSON: While the president hit the campaign trail, Vice President Pence attended the Munich security conference, where he reassured allies that they could rely on the Trump administration.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The United States of America strongly supports NATO and will be unwavering in our commitment to this transatlantic alliance.



DICKERSON: A number of high-ranking U.S. officials also attended the conference, including South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham.

We spoke with him earlier from Munich.


DICKERSON: Senator, you are there with foreign leaders from all over Europe. What is their view of the Trump administration?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I think they feel better after Vice President Pence spoke, and General Mattis.

America first has been a little hard to understand. A lot of people over here believe it is going back to the ‘20s and ‘30s isolation where America sort of retreats from the region.

Vice President Pence’s speech was terrific. We are going to be more involved in NATO, not less. We’re going to have more troops supporting our friends in Europe against aggression by Russia.

It seems to be America first is not withdrawing from NATO or the world, but asking our partners to do more. And they should.

DICKERSON: The defense minister of Estonia, where you in December and which feels some pressure from Russia, has said that Russia has become more aggressive since the election. What is your sense of that?

GRAHAM: She is dead right.

Russia has interfered in every democracy in their backyard. They are coming after the French and the Germans. They have tried to interfere in our election, even though they didn’t change the outcome. They did interfere. They hacked into the Democratic National Committee. Podesta’s e-mails were leaked to WikiLeaks.

The Russians were involved to hurt Clinton. The bottom line is, it is now time to punish Russia.

DICKERSON: And in his press conference, President Trump was given all of the things Russia has done recently to provoke the United States. There is a Russian trawler 30 miles off of Norfolk. He said he wasn’t going to say what his response would be.

What was your response to his posture with respect to Russia and those recent provocations?

GRAHAM: I can understand why he may not want to show his hands, but let me say this.

If we forgive and forget about what Russia did in our own election, we will invite aggression in the next election by Chinese and the Iranians. It was Democrats this time. It could be Republicans next time.

So the Congress is in a different place. I am leading the charge with Senator McCain and others to pass a bill to sanction Russia for interfering in the 2016 elections to hit them harder. I think it will pass with overwhelming bipartisan support and will be a signal, a pushback to Russia that, if you keep doing this, you are going to pay a heavy price. And I hope the president will embrace this.

DICKERSON: On the domestic policy front, there’s a lot of issues coming up, with replacement of Obamacare and also comprehensive tax reform.

When you look at this White House a month in, what is your assessment of the operations, the way things are running at White House so far, and based on what is ahead?

GRAHAM: They have done some good things, the Keystone pipeline, reviving the coal industry.

The executive order rollout about the seven countries’ extreme vetting did not go very well. They are going to fix that. General Kelly was here, homeland security secretary. They are going to roll out a new executive order.

The NSA, firing of General Flynn, these things happen. But here is what I am feeling better about. The people around President Trump, his Cabinet is terrific in terms of quality, Mattis, Tillerson, General Kelly. We need to get a good security adviser.

Reince Priebus, I have known him for years. He has a good relationship with the Hill. So, he has got a good team around him. They have stumbled. But let’s just wait and see what this year holds.

The Congress is stumbling. Republicans in the Congress, we are all tied up in knots. The House is talking about a tax plan that won’t get 10 votes in the Senate. So it is not just the administration that has got problems. Republicans in the House and the Senate have problems, and I hope we will get our act together.

DICKERSON: Senator, what do you make of the president’s comment that the press should be seen as the enemy of the American people?

GRAHAM: The backbone of democracy is a free press and an independent judiciary. And they are worth fighting and dying for.

The bottom line here is, America is not becoming a dictatorship. Senator McCain was right to say that we need, as politicians, understand the role of the press and jealously guard it.

But I would say this to the American press corps. When it comes to Trump, you are over the top. You are acting more like an opposition party. Every president has had problems with the press. You need to do your job.

But, from a Republican point of view, I think the coverage against President Trump has been almost to the point of being hysterical. And you all need to do some self-evaluation, in my view.

But the enemies of democracy, at the end of the day, are not the press. It is Russia. It is Iran and radical Islam. But I think our friends in the press back home need to up their game, because it really is hard to watch from a Republican point of view.

DICKERSON: And, Senator, you wanted to add something?

GRAHAM: Yes. When it comes to Russia, the one thing that bothers me most about President Trump is that he never seems to forcefully embrace idea that Russia’s interference in our election in 2016 is something that should be punished.

I am a Republican. It happened to the Democrats. It could happen to Republicans next. When one party is attacked, all of us are attacked. And one thing I am looking for is a more forceful response from President Trump when it comes to what Russia did in our election.

Putin is not a friend of democracy. George W. Bush miscalculated who Putin was. Obama was weak and indecisive in the face of Russian aggression. And my advice to President Trump is, don’t repeat Obama’s mistake.

And, for God’s sake, don’t empower Russia for forgiving them in terms of what they did in our election. And if we don’t hit them hard, you will be empowering Russia.

DICKERSON: Thank you, Senator.


DICKERSON: And we will be back in a moment. Stay with us.


DICKERSON: And joining us now from his district in Tulare, California, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes.

Mr. Chairman, I want to start with these leaks that President Trump has been so angry about coming from all kinds of different places. Help people understand the difference between a leak that is just kind of something that an administration doesn’t want to see and a leak that is illegal or would be the subject of investigation, as you have asked the FBI to investigate.

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R), CALIFORNIA: Well, there’s three very specific leaks that I have a big problem with.

One is the transcript with the discussion that Donald Trump had with the Mexican president. Two is the conversation that he had with the Australian prime minister. And then, of course, three is the leaking of Mike Flynn’s name to the press shortly after the 1st of the year.

These are all against the law. And you can’t operate a government like this if you can’t even have the president of the United States or his national security adviser able to have conversations in private with foreign leaders.

DICKERSON: Explain, though, on Mike Flynn. People have heard his name so much and this conversation or conversations he had with the Russian ambassador.

Give us a little more detail on why that bothers you.

NUNES: Well, if this was picked up as incidental collection because perhaps they had a warrant on someone else, typically, an American citizen wouldn’t be unmasked.

Somebody decided to unmask that name, somebody within the -- either the Department of Justice or others within the administration. If that happened, why did that happen? What would be the purpose of unmasking an American citizen’s name? In this case, at the time, he was a private citizen.

So, if his name was unmasked, somebody made that decision. And we need to know who made that decision. Did they really use a 1799 law called the Logan Act as the reason for unmasking his name? If that is the case, we have bigger problems in this country than what we really even realize.

DICKERSON: Why do you think these leaks -- the one you just described and others, where do you think they are coming from, and why?

NUNES: Well, this is why I think that the FBI and others need to investigate this, because the number of people that would actually have known that Mike Flynn, General Flynn, who was the national security adviser-designee, was having conversations with the Russians had to be a very, very small number.

And it had to be the highest -- at the highest levels of the Obama administration.

DICKERSON: And, Mr. Chairman, what do you think that -- does that say anything about the relationship between the intelligence communities, where this leak may have and other leaks may have come from, and Mr. -- and President Trump?

NUNES: Well, let’s get the -- let’s straight what we are talking about with the intelligence agencies, because I think there is a lot of innuendo out there that the intelligence agencies have a problem with Donald Trump.

The rank-and-file people that are out doing jobs in -- across the world, very difficult places, they don’t pay attention to what is going on in Washington. What we have is, we do have people in the last administration, people who are burrowed in, perhaps all throughout the government, who clearly are leaking to the press.

And it is against the law. Major laws have been broken. If you believe the “Washington Post” story that said there were nine people who said this, well, these are nine people who broke the law.

DICKERSON: All right, Mr. Chairman, we are going to take a break.

We will come back with you.

So, nobody, go away. And we will be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DICKERSON: Our stations are leaving us now, but we will be right back with a lot more FACE THE NATION.

Stay with us.


DICKERSON: Welcome back to FACE THE NATION. I’m John Dickerson.

We continue our conversation with chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Devin Nunes.

Mr. Chairman, I wanted to get back to what you said about those who had burrowed in, in the intelligence agencies, may be holdovers from -- or supporters of President Obama. Is that something you’re going to look into with your committee in terms of those people who are burrowed in?

NUNES: No, no, we won’t, but one of the things on this Russia issue, John, that is important is that the House Intelligence Committee has long been conducting ongoing investigations into -- into Russia. And, in fact, a year ago I publicly stated that the biggest intelligence failure since 9/11 was our failure to understand Putin’s plans and intentions. At the time, the administration balked at that, the IC ignored it and it wasn’t until after they lost an election that they started to pay attention to Russia.

So I’m happy that they’re paying attention to Russia now. I’m happy the American people are paying attention to Russia. There are Russia hawks now -- I don’t -- I think there’s more Russia hawks in Congress than there are congressmen and senators. And so we’re happy to expand this investigation. I welcome it.

However, we are not going to go on witch hunts against the American people, against American citizens. And, you know, basically putting names of people in newspaper outlets, that’s -- that’s not real credible evidence that an American citizen has done something wrong. But if there are American citizens who are -- for -- from any political party that are communicating with Russia, Russian agents, I want to know about it. Bring it to the committee because we’d like to investigate it.

DICKERSON: And you’re referring to the stories that the White House said are -- are -- have no merit to them, which is citizen whose were involved in the Trump campaign having any contact with the Russians, is that what you’re referring to?

NUNES: That’s correct. As far as I know, our law enforcement agencies don’t have that information. So is there someone else that has this information? But, you know, I would think -- I’d like for these people to bring this information to me so that we could investigate.

DICKERSON: Is -- is your committee going to investigate Michael Flynn? The Senate Intelligence Committee is investigating him. Will yours?

NUNES: Well, we’ll investigate -- what I have said is, we’ll follow the facts wherever they lead. So if there’s credible evidence against General Flynn, that he’s done something wrong, we’d love to do that. But the fact of the matter is, I don’t see any evidence that he -- that he actually discussed Russia sanctions dealing with the annexation of Crimea and the invasion of Ukraine. If you -- if Michael Flynn -- if General Flynn was talking about -- about Obama’s pettiness that he did after the -- at -- right after Christmas, kicking out a few Russian diplomats and telling the Russians not to overreact, and if the FBI used the Logan Act, I think we have much bigger problems here than Michael Flynn. He’s the least of the problems we have in this -- on this whole issue.

DICKERSON: I want to ask you -- I want to ask you a question about taxes, quickly, but you mean pettiness meaning the sanctions put on Russia based on their meddling in the election, is that what you meant?

NUNES: Well, I -- I don’t think anybody in their right mind -- when I talk sanctions, we’re dealing -- we’re talking about sanctions when -- of -- of foreign governments.


NUNES: The E.U. and others, the economic sanctions.


NUNES: What President Obama did after the -- after Christmas was a joke, and the Russians laughed at it.

DICKERSON: Let me ask you quickly about taxes. Comprehensive tax reform coming. Senator Graham said that the House and the Senate are not on the same page. He said you couldn’t get ten votes for what House Republicans are putting forward in the House. What’s your prospects for tax reform and when’s it going to happen, do you think?

NUNES: Yes. So -- so one of the things with tax reform is, is it’s very, very difficult. So we’ve spent the last decade looking at every possible reform. And one of the things that we’re going to have to do is we’re going to have to educate the American public. Currently, right now, nobody can understand the tax code. The tax reform that we’re talking about is one that actually the American people, once they understand it, will like it, and they’ll be able to implement it. And it really is the way that Donald Trump can make America great again. And so we have a lot of education to do, including in the House of Representatives, including with the United States Senate.

And so, you know, at this point, I would expect that a lot of senators, if they don’t even know what’s in the plan, and they don’t even know how it works, you know, there’s just a lot of work that has to be done.

DICKERSON: OK. NUNES: Including a lot of sales that have to be done by the president of the United States. But I do believe that his -- the -- the -- the fate of the American people and our economy relies on us getting fundamental tax reform done, blowing up this existing tax code and moving to a clean, transparent system that’s fair for all Americans.

DICKERSON: All right, we’ll have to leave it there. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

NUNES: Thank you.

DICKERSON: And we turn now to the top Democratic on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings.

Welcome, congressman.

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: Good to be with you over.

DICKERSON: You’ve called on Jason Chaffetz, who’s the chairman of the committee, to allow the committee to investigate Michael Flynn, the former national security advisor. Where does that stand?

CUMMINGS: He has been very reluctant to look at anything having to do with Russia and their interference with our elections. As Chairman Nunes just said, they are -- seem to be more anxious in looking for the leakers than dealing with the issue of our elections being interfered with, which -- which I think is phenomenal.

DICKERSON: What do you -- in terms of -- you want to look at the whole elections being interfered with, or -- or Michael Flynn in particular?

CUMMINGS: I want to look at Michael Flynn and any interference with our elections.

John, we can’t have people in Russia taking over our elections. First of all, it takes away from the credibility of the elections. It makes people feel uncomfortable, that is to voters, and we just can’t -- we have to have the integrity of our elections. And they seem very reluctant to do that.

DICKERSON: Let me ask you about leaks, though. You -- you wrote last year in August, you said, “reporters have an obligation to ask why these sources demand to remain anonymous, while refusing to provide copies of the documents they are providing.” That sounds very much like what Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said and what Chairman Nunes said in terms of these leaks everywhere. No -- no names attached.

CUMMINGS: Yes, I’m always concerned about leaks. I -- I really am. Our committee gets (ph) a lot of leaks and we get a lot of whistle blowers, John. When we were trying to address the Secret Service, Chairman Chaffetz welcomed whistle blowers and -- and leaks. Now that we’re getting leaks with regard to this issue, suddenly wants to attack the leakers.

I think we have to look at leaks. But at the same time there are some things that we can’t change unless we do have certain information. Other than that, we wouldn’t have it. We wouldn’t even know that Flynn had the kind of interaction and Manafort had interaction with the Russians if we didn’t have leaks. We wouldn’t even know it.

DICKERSON: Let me switch to -- your name came up in -- in the president’s press conference.

CUMMINGS: Very prominently.

DICKERSON: And it was about whether you’re going to have a meeting with the president.


DICKERSON: Are you going to have a meeting?

CUMMINGS: Yes. Oh, yes, I’m looking forward it to. And I think -- I think it was just a -- he apparently was not in contact with his staff properly. But we’re going to be meeting on prescription drugs. I -- we’re going to be out this week, so I expect it to be the next week.

DICKERSON: What are you going to talk about, I’m curious (ph)?

CUMMINGS: I want to talk about prescription drugs, the high price of prescription drugs. And he has made it clear that he wants to do something about that. I’m also going to, John, I’m going to talk to him about voting rights. You know, he talks about this voting fraud which is nonexistent, but he doesn’t talk about all of the millions of people who have been denied their right to vote because of suppression. So I want to talk about things like that also.

DICKERSON: And what about the agenda for the urban communities, for --

CUMMINGS: Definitely. I understand that he will be -- you know, the Congressional Black Caucus wrote him on January the 19th. He never answered the -- the letter until a day or so ago. But they have laid out an agenda where they’ll be meeting with him and trying to resolve some -- some urban issues and issues throughout the country.

DICKERSON: And do you think you can work with him?

CUMMINGS: I think we have to work with him. I’ve got people who -- you know, I keep telling people, this is our president. He’s going to be our president for the next four years. I’ve got people in my community who are suffering from cancer. They need treatment. I’ve got people who need jobs and I’ve got to work with this president. But at the same time, there’s nobody that has been tougher on this president than I have been.

DICKERSON: There is a feeling among Democrats that I talked to, lawmakers in the grass roots, that there’s a feeling that -- that no Democrat can work with this president because the grass roots will say you’re -- you’re working with the enemy. I mean the -- the passion against this president is so hard. And, Democrats, is it really realistic that Democrats are going to work with this president?

CUMMINGS: It is -- it is -- John, it is very, very hard. But, John, we are only in these jobs for a short period of time. And I’ve got to represent the people, the 700,000 people that I represent. In that four years, I’ve got kids that got to have schooling. I’ve got people who need medical care. And I’ve got to work with him on the things that I can. But, John, where our values clash, we’ll have to go toe to toe, period.

DICKERSON: All right, Mr. Cummings, thank you so much for being with us.

CUMMINGS: Thank you.

DICKERSON: And we’ll be right back in a moment with some analysis.


DICKERSON: Now for some analysis. Tom Donilon served as President Obama’s national security advisor, and Mike Morell was the number two at the CIA, advised the Hillary Clinton campaign and is now a CBS News senior security analyst.

Tom, I want to start with you.

President Trump is looking for a national security advisor.


DICKERSON: You know something about that job.


DICKERSON: What should he be looking for?

DONILON: Well, first of all, you know, people -- we’ve had a lot of discussion about the National Security Council in the last -- in the last couple of weeks. It is the center of policy development and crisis management for the U.S. government. And if it’s not appropriately staffed, and functioning effectively, if it doesn’t have the trust of the cabinet, right, and working together with the cabinet, you cannot make policy, and you cannot manage crises in the United States government.

With respect to the job, it’s essential that it gets filled quickly. You want to have someone who can bring a sense of teamwork. Yes, the model for this job in Brent Scowcroft, who was even handed and calm and --

DICKERSON: Under George Herbert Walker Bush. DONILON: Yes -- yes, under President Bush 41, right, and under President Ford. He -- he -- he served twice, right? To have some whose calm, steady and can run a process. You need to give the national security advisor all the authority that he or she needs. And you need to have it be the exclusive process. You can’t have alternate and parallel processes, right? It’s not going to work, right?

This -- so you need -- the National Security Council is -- is in -- supposed to engage the issue, get the necessary input, develop the options and bring them to the president for decision and then also oversee implementation.

DICKERSON: And not have back channels.

MICHAEL MORELL, CBS NEWS SENIOR SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: I just wanted -- I just wanted to add another really important aspect, is to bring together the views of the national security team to the president and not -- not drive those views to what you, the national security advisor, believe. That’s really important.

DICKERSON: So, meaning, don’t precook it?

MORELL: Exactly.

DICKERSON: Take in -- Mike, tell me, what’s your assessment of the relationship between the president and the intelligence community, as we talked about that a lot this morning. Something you know about. How is it?

MORELL: So prior to the inauguration, when the president was openly critical of the intelligence committee and CIA, it had an impact on moral. It quieted down once -- once the president got his team in there, Mike Pompeo, things quieted down. But now it’s heating up again with the president’s criticism over the leaks.

Just because it’s intelligence information that was leaked doesn’t mean it was leaked by the intelligence community or CIA, right? Big difference. But he is now criticizing them.

I think, ultimately, the morale will depend not on the public criticism, the morale will depend on whether the intelligence community believes the president is listening to what they have to say, has an open mind about what they have to say. He doesn’t have to agree, but he has to listen.

DICKERSON: Tom, in -- in -- in picking a new national security advisor, I mean the president’s got somebody in an interim position there, but how much of the job can an interim period do when they’re not there for long-term? In other words, tell me why this has to be filled so quickly. And then, on top of that, tell me where -- the big area in the country -- in the world that concerns you right now.

DONILON: Yes. Well, with respect -- it’s -- it’s exceedingly difficult to, you know, to do this on an interim basis, right? You know, you can make the trains run on time for a period of time, but you can’t really engage the issues and, as Mike said, bring the cabinet together and develop long-term strategic option for the country. And that’s what’s need right now.

The world is looking for President Trump’s definitive views, right? And there’s a high degree of uncertainty and anxiety in the world. And the place where that happens is the national security -- is the National Security Council and it’s led by the national security advisor. So you need to have a permanent leader who can take on these -- who can take on these challenges.

DICKERSON: Mike, in terms of Russia and -- and the American position with respect to Russia, an expert I was talking about on -- a Russia expert I was talking to was saying that one of Vladimir Putin’s hopes was -- may have been to meddle in the election, but it’s also to create chaos in American institutions. Do you see it that way?

MORELL: One of his primary goals is to weaken the United States in the world. So he does -- he works that a whole bunch of different ways.

I think what struck me since the inauguration is he has taken a number of actions I think to actually challenge the president, to test the president. He has -- he has -- he has increased the -- the -- the fighting in eastern Ukraine. Just yesterday he announced that -- that Russia would accept the passports of people from eastern Ukraine. That sends a very powerful signal. And they have deployed a -- a cruise missile that is contrary to an arms control treaty.

So three things, three very significant things in the last three weeks, and I think it’s important for the president to stand up and say something about it.

DONILON: Let me -- can I add to that just for a second?


DONILON: I -- there’s been a lot of talk about Russia, right, and we should talk about things that we know, right, not things that are speculated on. And the things that Michael went through are things that we know, right? But we also know that there was Russian interference in the U.S. election in 2016 and on January 6th the intelligence community did something unusual, with high confidence put out a report saying that. That needs to be investigated in a nonpartisan basis. That’s another -- I think another important addition to the list, Michael, that needs to be -- needs to be addressed, which is what happened in the 2016 election? How can we prevent it from happening again? And how can we work with our European partners to ensure that Russia doesn’t interfere in their series of elections in 2017.

DICKERSON: Mike, let me switch to North Korea. The president is concerned about that issue, a missile launch last weekend. I -- I am sure I’ve asked you this before, but what -- what can the U.S. government really know about what’s happening in North Korea?

MORELL: So we -- we -- we know quite a bit, actually, and the situation has become much more dangerous over the last five years or so for two reasons. One is the -- the stockpile -- the number of nuclear weapons that North Korea has, has become much larger. They keep on adding to it. And, two, by -- by testing missiles over and over and over again, those missiles are becoming more capable. And they’ve had more time to be able to mate a nuclear weapon to one of those missiles. So the situation is more dangerous.

There’s three significant risks, John. One is that they could actually launch one at the United States. I think that’s the lowest risk. Two, the regime could fall. There’s a real likelihood at some point that this regime will fall and the nuclear weapons will be out of control, right? Somebody -- they’ll be -- they’ll be out there, and they’ll be available to people to grab them. And then, three, North Korea could sell one of those -- one of those nuclear weapons someday. So those are the three risks we face. It’s significant.

DICKERSON: All right, we’re going to have to --

DONILON: Yes, we haven’t had a crisis yet, right? This -- this, I think, could be the -- could be the first crisis in 2017. You know, General Tony Thomas (ph), I just want to finish up on this, said something this week. He’s the head of Special Operations Command. One of the most senior important commanders in the Army says, our government continues to be in unbelievable turmoil. We need to address this, to deal with things like the North Korea potential crisis.

DICKERSON: All right, gentlemen, thanks so much. We’ll have to leave it there.

And we’ll be back in a moment with our political panel.


DICKERSON: Political panel. We’re very lucky to have “The Washington Post’s” Bob Woodward to join us. And he is here, along with the editor in chief of “The Atlantic,” Jeffrey Goldberg.

Bob, I want to start with you.

The president has said that the press is the enemy of the American people. You know something about that kind of language. What do you make about that?

BOB WOODWARD, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: The press is not that enemy. And the concern in the press is that we’ll have secret government. That government does things that we should know about that we don’t. And the judge who said it got it right, democracies die in darkness. And so we’re working against the darkness.

Trump is right. On some of these stories have been out of bounds. I think most of them have been quite good. And he’s just going to have to learn that there are leaks and that there is criticism and so many things he’s not going to like. And the key is to get the big things right. What’s the policy in the Middle East going to be, with Russia, with North Korea? What’s he going to do with the economy, cyber security, counterterrorism? Those are the big issues. The press should be thinking about them. So should he. DICKERSON: Jeffrey, the -- it’s clear part of the White House strategy is to use the press as a -- as a foil and we are right in there helping with that back and forth. How do you see that? On the other hand, the press is the enemy is a -- is a -- is a powerful statement. So how do you sort this out?

JEFFREY GOLDBERG, “THE ATLANTIC”: Look, we -- we wall know that any time the president of the United States opens his mouth, it’s newsworthy, so we have to report on his attacks on the press. On the other hand, we don’t want to create a feeling like this is completely unprecedented. I mean I’m going -- going back to a story Bob knows. In 1973, Walter Cronkite told “The Atlantic,” he said that the Nixon White House very deliberately used the press as a foil to enhance its own credibility. This is a strategy that is -- that has some precedent in American history. And so we just have to keep our journalistic composure about this as we go forward.

DICKERSON: Yes, absolutely.

Bob, I -- let’s talk about the president’s press conference this week. I want to -- you noticed something. Let’s run a clip here quickly and then I’ll get your reaction to it.


TRUMP: North Korea, we’ll take care of it, folks. What’s going to happen when I’m dealing with really, really important subjects like North Korea?

QUESTION: There will be others. In other words, there will be a response, Mr. President?

TRUMP: I don’t have to tell you what I’m going to do in North Korea. Wait a minute.


DICKERSON: So, Bob, what did you make of those three?

WOODWARD: Well, so, three times he bring -- he’s not asked once about North Korea, but he brings it up himself saying, you know, I don’t have to tell the -- I’m clearly worried about leaks about north Korea, saying, hey, look, I’m going to take care of it, folks. This is on his mind and rightly on his mind. I think President Obama told him, North Korea is one of these things you really need to worry about. Maybe at the top of the list. And so it’s logical.

And, again, that -- where Obama apparently said, you know, this -- I -- I don’t sleep because of North Korea, and it’s quite logical because north Korea has a leader that’s unstable and they have nuclear weapons.

DICKERSON: All right, Jeffrey, what did you make of the press conference?

GOLDBERG: Well, I mean, it was -- DICKERSON: Seventy-seven minutes long. I know it’s --

GOLDBERG: You know, look, after just arguing that, you know, we have precedent for various aspects of the Trump administration. There are some things that are unprecedented and this performance art that we see at these press conferences -- at that press conference in particular -- was -- was what’s quite striking.

I -- I think about this through the prism of how the world views us. And -- and the -- the world depends on our sobriety in a kind of way. They -- people resent the United States and its global power, but they also are reassured in many ways by the presence of the United States and by very stable, sober-minded person at the helm of the United States. And those kind of performances are actually quite unnerving, I think, to me and they’re quite unnerving to people around the world.

DICKERSON: Bob, there have been two ends of the spectrum with respect to how President Trump is doing. On the one hand there’s the chaos idea and then the other is the president saying a fine-tuned machine. Senator Graham kind of came down in the middle. He said, on some big things he’s doing just great and the other things are just kind of part of getting your legs underneath you. How do you see the first --

WOODWARD: I -- I listened to Senator Graham and I thought it was wise. I come down in the middle on this. There are some good things, some things that are not working. But we don’t want, in the media, to set ourselves up as the opposition. I know Trump a little bit. I don’t think he really believes that the press is the enemy of the people, frankly. And we have to do our reporting in a very aggressive, careful way. Ten months ago with Bob Costa, we interviewed Trump, and it was tough and he came out and he said, well, it was fair and accurate. So I think you can be tough and fair and accurate.

DICKERSON: And there’s a -- Jeffrey, there’s a lot that Republicans like in what he’s doing, not just the Supreme Court --


DICKERSON: But the Affordable Care Act, getting rid of regulations, and also in comprehensive tax reform.

GOLDBERG: Right. Right. No, I mean it’s interesting in that -- in some ways, not giving political advice here, obviously, but in some ways they have a better story to tell than they are telling, and that’s because in part -- in part because of these personnel sort of -- this personnel chaos that’s going on, National Security Council particular, but in part because the level of unnecessary attack on -- on the media. The statements about the independent judiciary that are quite troubling. If he would get out of his own way on occasion, you could see a plausible case to be made that -- that, you know, he has something good to sell to the people and obviously the base seems to continue to appreciate what he’s doing.

DICKERSON: They sure did in Florida yesterday. Bob, what is your view, when we look back some years from now on the Michael Flynn saga, what -- what -- what should we take away?

WOODWARD: I think there are many unanswered questions about it. I’m not sure why it was a firing offense, quite frankly. And two and a half weeks before the inaugural, I met with Flynn and went through a number of things, like Russia, and he made the case, said, look, we’re going to have a two track strategy, reach out to Putin, and at the same time build-up our military in a way that Putin is going to hate, and it’s going to be very tough. We have not seen that side of it. But -- so if there’s some strategy in all of this, and I agree with Jeffrey on the economy. They have so many points they could make and they’re just not.

DICKERSON: All right, I’m afraid we’ve run out of time. Bob, Jeffrey, thank you, both of you.

And we’ll be back in a moment.


DICKERSON: That’s it for us today. Thanks for watching. Until next week, for FACE THE NATION, I’m John Dickerson.



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